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Canucks' blue line depth means Ballard sits one out

by Arpon Basu
MONTREAL -- Keith Ballard has a pretty strong pedigree in hockey.

He was the No. 11 pick by the Buffalo Sabres in 2002, played for both the U.S. Under-18 and World Junior Championship teams, and has 149 points in 405 career NHL games.

But Tuesday night, Ballard will be watching from the press box as his Vancouver Canucks welcome Dan Hamhuis back into the lineup when they take on the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

It is not an indictment of Ballard or his qualities as a player, but a reflection of just how strong the Canucks are this year.

"It's a little challenge for him, but some internal competition usually brings out the best in people," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said in explaining his decision to sit Ballard and keep the unheralded Aaron Rome in the lineup. "We want to win, and you win with your best lineup."

Vigneault said Ballard has had a difficult ride thus far, losing a summer's worth of training due to hip surgery and then suffering a concussion that cost him five games last month.

"It's a little challenge for him, but some internal competition usually brings out the best in people. We want to win, and you win with your best lineup." -- Canucks coach Alain Vigneault on his decision to sit Keith Ballard

That's the void Rome filled after he was a healthy scratch for the first four games until Ballard's injury, and since then his ice time has seen a steady increase to the point where he has now passed Ballard on the team's depth chart.

"More ice time definitely gives you confidence," said Rome, who will be paired with Hamhuis. "I don't think my game's changed that much. I guess I'm just more confident."

The addition of Hamhuis after he missed eight games with a foot injury will solidify a defensive corps that, frankly, doesn't need it. In winning their last six games the Canucks have only allowed 12 goals, but four of those came in a 6-4 win over Detroit on Saturday night.

It's games like those where having the League's best power play comes in handy, as the Canucks went 2-for-5 in that game and have gone 7-for-13 over their last three.

"It's easy plays, getting shots on net and looking for those second and third opportunities," said center Ryan Kesler, who has three power play goals this season. "Also, having the Art Ross and Hart Trophy winner doesn't hurt."

That, of course, would be Henrik Sedin, who combined with brother Daniel accounts for 15 power-play points between them.

On the other hand, the entire Canadiens team only has nine power-play points on their three goals with the man advantage this season, giving them a League-worst 6.4-percent efficiency rating.

It's been a bizarre fall for last season's No. 2 power play team considering the Canadiens only lost center Glen Metropolit and defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron among their power-play regulars, and neither of them are even playing in the NHL right now.

A big reason for the power-play struggles may be the slow starts offensively for Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, who were respectively third and fifth on the team last year in power-play scoring.

Coach Jacques Martin has had a revolving door of forwards auditioning for a spot on the team's top-six, with Travis Moen, Mathieu Darche, Benoit Pouliot, Lars Eller and Tom Pyatt all getting a look. Tuesday night, it will be Maxim Lapierre's turn as he's expected to play on a line with Gomez and Andrei Kostitsyn, while Gionta, Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri will get a second straight game together as the team's top line.

Canadiens forward Dustin Boyd cleared waivers Tuesday at noon and will be a healthy scratch. He sits last on the team with a minus-6 rating in only nine games played. Eller, a healthy scratch for Saturday's night's 3-2 loss to Ottawa, will take his spot and center the fourth line between Pyatt and Moen.
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